How to handle cyber bullies

Self-confidence and understanding how the internet works may help head off problems.

Cyber bullies victimise their classmates and acquaintances online because they don't see the immediate consequences of their actions and they mistakenly believe their posts, tweets or emails can't be traced back to them, according to one expert.

"If a girl posts a mean remark online, she doesn't have to witness the target's hurt reaction," explained Brandie Oliver, an assistant professor of school counselling at Butler University in Indianapolis who also supervises a high school peer counselling program. "Many students post messages that they would never say in a face-to-face situation."

  • Children should be taught to stand up for themselves – both in real time and in cyberspace, Oliver said. "Kids need to speak up and tell other kids (especially a bully) what they need and what they don't want," she explained in a university news release.
  • As a rash of US suicides has shined a spotlight on cyber bullying. Oliver outlined some ways to help young people survive digital attacks and also protect themselves from future bullying:
  • Only accept online friends who are known and trusted.
  • Do not participate in online bullying, gossip or the sharing of embarrassing photos and videos – either yours or someone else's.
  • Understand that any messages, pictures or videos posted online can be seen and commented on by others.

Parents should get involved and help their children understand the online world, Oliver advised. Also, parents must limit internet access if they believe their teens are not capable of handling the drama that can play out online, she said.

Oliver said her own teenage daughter "tries to tell me everyone has a Facebook account. I know that's not true, and I don't feel that my daughter is ready for this digital step. You have to stand firm and be a parent."

Parents should also direct their kids toward activities that build up their self-confidence to help them fend off potential attacks by bullies. "Kids with self-confidence have a built-in shield against bully behaviour," she said.

Oliver added that young people should be encouraged to stand up for other kids who are the victims of bullies and report any harassment or bullying to an adult.

(HealthDay, October 2011)

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